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Chinese self-driving pioneer AutoX is opening up its fully driverless robotaxi pilot program to the public in Shenzhen this morning. This is the first time the general public in China can book a ride in a robotaxi that doesn’t have a safety driver, AutoX claimed.
Interested parties can sign up for a ride via this registration page. Shenzhen has the highest level of population density of any city in China. To start, AutoX told The Robot Report its fleet of 25 Pacifica minivans will operate within Shenzhen’s Pingshan district. Pingshan is 65 square miles in size. For comparison’s sake, Waymo’s robotaxi service operates within a 50-square-mile radius of Chandler, Ariz.
AutoX’s vehicles will have teleoperators standing by in case the systems encounter situations they can’t handle. AutoX said the “teleoperator can give very high level instructions to help in situations when the car is stuck, such as giving a routing suggestion. The onboard AI still decides how the car drives.”
AutoX is also testing a robotaxi service in Shanghai, but uses safety drivers.
There is a lot of activity within China’s growing autonomous vehicle industry. Earlier this week, Beijing-based Uisee Technology raised $154 million for its autonomy stack that enables L4 vehicles. Unlike robotaxis that operate on public roads, Uisee’s vehicles operate in move restricted environments, such as airports factories, and ports. In December 2019, it partnered with Hong Kong International Airport on an autonomous electric tractor that transports baggage for thousands of passengers on a daily basis.
Another Chinese autonomous vehicle company, Guangzhou-based WeRide, earlier this month completed a $310 million Series B round of funding. It launched a L4 robotaxi service in Guangzhou in November 2019. WeRide claimed this is the first publicly accessible robotaxi service in the city. It covers an area of 144 square kilometers (89.4 sq. mi.) in Huangpu District and Guangzhou Development District. In the service’s first year of operation, 60,000-plus users went on a total of 147,128 rides, according to WeRide.
Plus.ai, a self-driving truck company with offices in the U.S. and China, in November 2020 raised $100 million from Guotai Junan International, a Hong Kong-based investment and securities firm, and Hedosophia, a London-based VC firm.
And today Chinese search giant Baidu became the sixth company approved to test fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in California. It joined AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo, and Zoox. Sixty companies have a permit to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver in California.
China is aiming to achieve mass production of lower-level autonomous vehicles by 2025. In a 2018 report, Deloitte predicted sales of L4 autonomous vehicles in China to exceed 500,000 units by 2030.
AutoX was founded in 2016 by Dr. Jianxiong Xiao, who has autonomous vehicle experience from MIT and Princeton University. It opened a RoboTaxi Operations Center in Shanghai, which it claims now serves as the largest data hub for self-driving car data in Asia.